As we continue to live and work through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have finally reached a point where healthcare professionals are slowly reopening their practices and returning to the workplace. This has been a difficult time for many private practice owners, with the majority of therapists feeling more stressed now than they did before the pandemic. The stats are staggering. In America alone, nearly 800,000 healthcare jobs have been lost since February 2020, and a study by the American Physical Therapy Association showed that physical therapy practice revenue losses exceeded 50%.
As daunting as it has been to keep your practice open and provide medical services remotely, the next big challenge is setting up systems within physical work environments to effectively minimise the risk of viral transmission. Although medical professionals are being offered priority access to vaccines, stringent health and safety protocols must still be adhered to in order to ensure client safety and peace of mind.
It’s not guaranteed to be an easy transition back into ‘the office’, but the key to making it more efficient entails plenty of forward-thinking and preparation, not just for situations you or your staff can expect, but also to put you in a position to better handle what you didn’t see coming.
Uncertainty remains as to when we will return to a more ‘normal’ way of working, but until then, here’s some helpful advice for healthcare professionals who are slowly returning to the workplace for the first time:
Communicate Clearly with Your Team
If you manage a team of medical professionals, contact them well in advance. Get an early start on conducting briefings and risk assessments and ensure that they have easy access to training collateral regarding protocols.
Efficient communication will also allow you to address specific issues before returning to a physical work environment, and as an employee, this is also an opportunity to voice your own personal concerns before stepping into your medical scrubs.
A few things to remember in your return-to-work discussions include:
- Communicating with colleagues and staff individually in a sensitive and empathetic manner.
- Gaining a better understanding of how each of them is feeling about returning to the workplace.
- Looking out for any signs of distress or mental-health issues amongst your team which may require professional support.
- Identifying and presenting additional training or clinical supervision needed to support your team before and upon their return to the workplace.
- Regularly checking in with staff members in one-on-one meetings once they have returned. Individual circumstances can change rapidly, and they may need more support over time.
- Thanking them for their contributions during the pandemic and showing your appreciation for their commitment.
Remember, employers must not require any staff members who need to self-isolate by law to come into work.
Pre-Order Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
It’s been a little over a year since national governments worldwide began to implement legislation for national lockdowns in response to COVID-19. Still, one thing that remains is the stringent use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Where you were already using PPE in your daily work activity, you should continue to do so in order to manage the risks of COVID-19. Ensure that there is plenty of stock available such as disposable gloves, masks, visors, and clothing items like disposable gowns and aprons.
Ensure that the ordering systems are streamlined well in advance so that there are adequate PPE supplies at all times for all members of staff.
Devise a Plan for Social Distancing
In addition to PPE, social distancing must be implemented to manage the risk of COVID-19. This calls for a physical re-arrangement of work areas to keep colleagues and clients two metres apart. Add in clear signage and floor markings to remind everyone of this and pay special attention to areas that generally have a high volume of foot traffic and queues.
- The entrance to your premises.
- Designated waiting areas.
- Reception, payment, and medicine dispensary counters.
- Canteens and food courts.
Ensure that screens are set up as a physical barrier at reception desks or payment areas and, if possible, keep areas well ventilated with fans and open windows.
Plan your treatment schedule to allow for enough time between appointments. This should minimise bottlenecks and allow for sufficient time to disinfect and clean work areas between sessions with clients.
Remove Unnecessary Touch Points
To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, remove all non-essential items from waiting rooms and treatment areas such as magazines, medical pamphlets, pens, toys, and any other items clients may feel inclined to touch. The same goes for no-touch thermometers, should those be implemented at entrance areas.
Card machines must be sanitised between use, but it’s also worth investing in contactless payment facilities to make it easier and more efficient for clients to pay. Ensure that both yourself and clients have easy access to handwashing facilities or hand sanitising stations throughout the workplace.
Brief Your Clients
Remind your administration staff to brief clients on what to expect when making an appointment. This can be done via email, text, or a personal call, and will help reassure them of your establishment’s health and safety protocols well before they arrive.
Upon their arrival, make protocols and systems easy for them to follow by putting up clear signs and introducing a one-way entrance and exit system to maintain social distancing. Lastly, don’t forget to let your clients know when you will be ready and open for business. Invite them to book their appointments, attend to their questions in advance and thank them for their ongoing support and patience.
Ongoing Cleaning and Hygiene
Physical work environments will also need a deep clean before teams begin to return. This should include disinfecting all hard surfaces such as doorbells, door handles, handrails, taps, reception desks, computer keyboards, telephones, toilets, and handwashing facilities.
Cleaning and hygiene go together and will need to work as an ongoing, consistent system. You’ll need a tight plan, or at least be fully aware of what the procedures entail before returning to work. This also applies to cleaning staff, who should also be thoroughly briefed and trained. Ensure that there is an efficient ordering process in place to replenish cleaning products and equipment.
A change in daily hygiene practices is also to be expected, such as:
- Frequent replacement of couch roll-ons and soft covers.
- Increased washing of bed linen, surgical gowns, and patient robes.
- Frequent cleaning of treatment areas between client consultations.
- Daily disposal of used PPE or cleaning of uniforms.
Updating Policies and Agreements
Before returning to work, ensure that your cancellation policies are updated to allow for greater flexibility and sensitivity to reflect the current sentiment around COVID-19. The American Medical Association has put forward some excellent guidelines to work off.
Before returning to the workplace, consult your insurance company about any disclaimers needed for yourself and your clients. Most insurance companies will have provided cover during remote working but remember to check that you will still be covered under your professional indemnity insurance due to the increased risks within your place of work.
Reopening your healthcare practice or stepping back into your physical workplace during COVID-19 requires a plan, you can’t wing it and hope for the best. So, while this guide is not a standard or regulation, it presents recommendations that should help streamline the process of returning to work. (And it will hopefully leave you feeling more organised and less prone to decision fatigue once you reopen and hit the ground running.)
Efficient preparation is an essential component of any plan. Every support system or precaution should ensure a safe and nurturing environment for both your staff members and clients, not just for the first day back, but in the long run.